Free Essay “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
“The Road” is one of the prominent works written by Cormac McCarthy. The novel conveys a vision of the author of the post-apocalyptic world, where human nature is revealed in its extreme. In such a situation, the author explores the essence of human nature and juxtaposes primary instincts of humans to superior human values, even in the savage world, where there seems to be no place for humanism. At the same time, the author apparently believes in the supremacy of humanism and human values over primary instincts even when humans struggle for survival. Probably, the author attempts to convince the audience that it is in humanism the mankind can find salvation from all of its problems and challenges. In this respect, the post-apocalyptic world reminds the modern world where people are concerned with their own well-being only. In the epoch of consumerism, there is little room for humanistic ideals, help to people in need. Instead, consumerism and the struggle for a higher social status and wealth prevail in the modern society, which resembles the struggle of people depicted by McCarthy for survival in the post-apocalyptic world.
On the other hand, it is quite symbolic that humanism and humanistic ideal, which the boy, the main character of the novel, personifies, are exceptional but survived since the boy is practically alone in the cruel world. Obviously, the author emphasizes the exceptionality of the main character with his inexplicable trend to basic human values, sympathy and compassion to other humans. This is why his main character is the “one”. In fact, he turns out to be the only one who has preserved the good part of human nature, while other, adult humans degraded to the primitive level.
In fact, the book depicts the world after apocalypses when the traditional world was totally ruined and vanished leaving humans in a deserted and wild world, where they struggle for survival. The main characters of the novel, the father and the son are moving southward to the Southeastern part of the former USA, where they expect to find better life or, at least, some sources for living. The author intentionally creates a very dark, cruel atmosphere where the question of survival is more than real. It seems as if the mankind has returned to the primary stage of its development, when people confronted the nature and the wilderness having nothing at their disposal but their hands, mind and primitive tools. The author depicts the picture of the total degradation, where cannibalism has become a norm and people readily kill each other to get some food to eat and, therefore to survive.
Remarkably, the author uses the road as a symbol of the life of the entire mankind. In fact, the father and the son are traveling from the place where they used to live and which is totally ruined. They are moving to the South-East with the hope to find the salvation they are striving for. In such a way, the author attempts to show that people always struggling for the better life. They keep going, regardless of all obstacles and problems, they can face on their way. At the same time, the author shows that there is always hope for humans. Even after the most disastrous tragedies in the life of the mankind, people keep believing and searching for new opportunities and for a better life.
At the same time, the main characters seem to be in a complete isolation. The new, post-apocalyptic world seems to be the world where all fights all and where each individuals stands for his or her interests only and the only interest they do have is the survival. This is why keeping memory alive is difficult for the main characters, since the past grows increasingly remote. It is as if these lonely characters are experiencing “the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world” (McCarthy, 110). The past has become like a place inhabited by the newly blind, all of it slowly slipping away. As for looking toward the future, “there is no later,” the book says starkly. “This is later.” (McCarthy, 112). In such a way, the main characters are concerned with their current problems and challenges they have to cope with.
The ruined setting of “The Road” is strewn with terrible, revealing artifacts. There are old newspapers. (“The curious news. The quaint concerns.”). There is one lone bottle of Coca-Cola, still absurdly fizzy when all else is dust. There are charred corpses frozen in their final postures, like the long-dead man who sits on a porch like “a straw man set out to announce some holiday” (McCarthy, 87). Sometimes these prompt the father to recall “a dull rose glow in the window glass” at 1:17 in the morning, the moment when the clocks stopped forever (McCarthy, 88). In fact, it seems as if the world the boy and the father are living in is timeless since the time has stopped forever as the clocks they see.
In such a situation, it seems to be quite natural that people have almost lost their humanistic ideals which used to be highly appreciated in the past and which have become worthless now. The boy can hardly remember his mother. She was pregnant when the world exploded, and the boy was born a few days after she and the man “watched distant cities burn” (McCarthy, 76). Ultimately she gave up and took a bullet: “She was gone and the coldness of it was her final gift” (McCarthy, 83). In this respect, it is very symbolic that the boy and the father have scarce memories of the woman who failed to resist to constant challenges in the struggle for survival in a dehumanized world. In fact, the mother is traditionally associated with human care, love, and other positive characteristics which are typical to humans. Symbolically, she dies and, what is more, she commits suicide that is probably a hint which indicates to the fact that the last hope of the father and the son, who represent the mankind, is lost.
Nevertheless, the author is not totally pessimistic because the boy turns out to be different from all the other humans they encounter on their way. He has good inclinations; he has a strong, innate desire to help other people, the desire which disturbs his father very much because he knows that people are cruel and deceitful. Therefore, the father knows that his boy may be deceived and murdered by cannibals. Yet as the boy and man wander, encountering remnants of the lost world and providing the reader with more and more clues about what destroyed it, this narrative is also illuminated by extraordinary tenderness. “He knew only that the child was his warrant,” it says of the father and his mission. “He said: if he is not the word of God God never spoke” (McCarthy, 174). In such a way, the boy seems to be the last hope of his father. It is not only the hope for a happy future for his son, but implicitly it is the hope for the entire mankind because he incorporates naïve but still vitally important humanistic values which are essential for humans to stay truly humans and these values can prevent them from the ongoing degradation which inevitably leads to the total extinction of the mankind. This is why the boy tells “I am the one” (McCarthy, 137) and, by this, he emphasize his difference and uniqueness in his humanistic inclinations compared to savage people around him.
The Beckettian passage is one where the man and boy encounter an old man tapping his way along with a stick. He claims he knew what was coming:
People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didn’t believe in that. Tomorrow wasn’t getting ready for them. It didn’t even know they were there.’ In this rare bit of a dialogue with a stranger, there’s a sense of play-acting, even pleasure in the exchange of profound platitudes: ‘Do you wish you would die?/ No. But I might wish I had died. When you’re alive you always got that ahead of you./ Or you might wish you’d never been born./ Well. Beggars can’t be choosers./ You think that would be asking too much./ What’s done is done. Anyway, it’s foolish to ask for luxuries in times like these.’ Still, the Irish existential flavor here (‘There is no God and we are his prophets’) is a little strong (McCarthy, 181).
In such a way, the author hints to the modern society, which is also aware of its destructive impact on the environment and the devaluation of basic humanistic values and ideals, but still people do nothing to prevent the ongoing degradation. In such a situation, current prophets remain unheard by the overwhelming majority of the modern society. The same attitude to such prophets who warn on the upcoming disaster can be traced in the book: “There is no prophet in the earth’s long chronicle who is not honored here today,” the father says, trying to make his son understand why they inhabit a gray moonscape. “Whatever form you spoke of you were right” (McCarthy, 197).
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy is the warning to the modern society. At the same time, the author apparently believe in the survival of humanistic ideals and basic human values which distinguish human from all other living being inhabiting the planet. The author shows that human can be extremely destructing and, what is more, they can degrade to the primitive level to the extent that they can turn to cannibalism when the question of their survival arises. Nevertheless, there is always hope for humans that there will be at least one truly human individual, like the boy, the main character of the novel, who still remains sympathetic, compassionate and truly human, in spite of cruelty of the surrounding world.
McCarthy, C. (2006). The Road. New York: Knopf.
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